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mathematics genius
Posted: 07 July 2011 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I have just read in the Guardian Alan Turing referred to as this. I would have said mathematical genius. Is there any difference or is it just a style thing?

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Posted: 07 July 2011 05:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I would say that “mathematics genius” is a bit clunky but useful because unambiguous; the ambiguity in “mathematical genius” is slight and subtle, but the problem becomes more apparent with, say, “philosophical genius”: are we talking about a genius at philosophy or a genius who happens to be of a philosophical cast of mind?

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Posted: 07 July 2011 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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But the inclusion of the name Turing is key above. If I said Wittgenstein was a philosophical genius it would be fine. Would he better be described as a philosophy genius?
I have problems with the term genius and those described/dismissed as near-geniuses, anyway. They are not helpful terms. What do you think? How to define either in a dictionary? Shakespeare, George Best, Mozart, John Lennon, languagehat? ;)

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Posted: 07 July 2011 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It’s not really a question of “better”; I’m just trying to explain why one might be tempted to go with the awkward-sounding noun modifier instead.  It has nothing to do with the stature of the person described.

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Posted: 07 July 2011 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I see what LH means. Maybe if you compare it to a phrase like ‘mathematical equation’ you feel the difference. Possibly the author was just following his instinct. If an equation can be mathematical then a person being mathematical seems odd, in a way.

[ Edited: 07 July 2011 12:28 PM by Dutchtoo ]
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Posted: 07 July 2011 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I would have chosen to use “mathematical genius.” I have seen it more often than “mathematics genius.”

“Computer genius,” “computing genius,” “computational genius,” “computer wizard,” “computer guru,”—I’ve heard Turing referred to by most if not all of these. 

I see the point about ambiguity and so I was startled to discover that ”mathematical genius” (search limited to the years 1500 - 1775*) appears far earlier and far more often than ”mathematics genius” (search limited to the years 1500 - 1905*) in my googlistic searches.  Although I have found many instances of the former, including some dating from as early as 1706, they are nearly all (the early ones that are not ‘typos’) from the sense of “genius" as in “tutelary god” (from etymonline).

An example, from 1706:

“...Not long since (viz. A. D. 1690) that excellent Person M. Joseph Raphson, F. R. S. published his Universal Analysis of Equations and illustrated his Method by plenty of Examples; by all which he has given Indications of a Mathematical Genius, from which the greatest things may be expected....”

-- from Miscellanea curiosa: Being a collection of some of the principal Phaenomena of Nature..., Volume 2, By Royal Society (Great Britain), 1706 (page 71)

Searching google’s books database from 1700 - 2008 (corpus = English):

mathematical genius” :  About 24,200 results

mathematics genius” :  About 289 results

*Date-limited the searches in order to have to read only a reasonable number of items.

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Posted: 07 July 2011 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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A noun qualifying a noun is not the norm in latinate languages, I’ve been told. Native Portuguese, French, and Spanish speakers don’t warm up to the concept and can get the order wrong when there are more than one qualifiers in a row. For examples, (IMO) English speakers would naturally choose “banana mint julep” and “mint banana pie” over the opposite because the primary conceptual modifier should be closest to the primary noun. One could speculate all day long about this stuff, BTW.

What does it mean, who cares, and what does it matter? I won’t use the P or D word, but in the old days Latin and sometimes its progeny were considered the basis for correct and formal usage. So, while the the noun on noun thing is more distinctively English, it was not encouraged. It would seem that it used to be and still is more “proper” to modify a noun with an adjective. Therefore, “mathematical genius” would be the choice over “mathematics genius.”

I think it is a modern, growing trend to use nouns instead of adjectives in front of nouns. It’s a lot easier. It also seems to make English a lot more like Chinese.

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Posted: 08 July 2011 12:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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"A noun qualifying a noun is not the norm in latinate languages”
Maybe so, but adjectival use of nouns is common in English (computer screen, bank account, car engine...)

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Posted: 08 July 2011 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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It would seem that it used to be and still is more “proper” to modify a noun with an adjective.

This is simply not the case.  As frma says, it is perfectly standard and common in English.  In any particular case, of course, a noun may be a more or less appropriate modifier, but I defy you to find adjectival replacements for the cited phrases (computer screen, bank account, etc.).

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Posted: 08 July 2011 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Yeah, it’s quite common to modify a noun with a noun. I’m simply suggesting that it has traditionally been considered more formal and “proper” to use an adjective when available. Hence, “mathematical” is more common than “mathematics.” The phrase “math genius” is completely normal.

The lack of adjectival forms for certain nouns shows that language is not formulaic, nor is it 100% consistent. So I think we’re in agreement to that extent at least.

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Posted: 08 July 2011 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Also seems to me that the meter is better in “mathematical genius”. The two dactyls at the end are pleasing.

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Posted: 09 July 2011 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Oh, I agree.  Once again, I’m not saying the cited usage is in any way better, or even as good, I was just suggesting a possible reason the author might have used it.

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Posted: 09 July 2011 09:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’ve seen people doing rapid mental calculations described as “mathematical geniuses” but even the ones that are true savants aren’t really mathematical geniuses in the same way as someone like Newton. Seems more like the difference between an artisan and an artist. Me, I’m grateful for calculators.

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Posted: 10 July 2011 02:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’d say those rapid calculators are arithmetical or calculatory geniuses. Most of the mathematicians I’ve known did not have any kind of noteworthy calculating ability. (They weren’t necessarily bad at arithmetic, although some were, just not above average.) Mathematics is more about abstract thought and devising ways to represent complex processes than it is about calculating. Calculating comes along after the mathematician has done her work.

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Posted: 10 July 2011 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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even the ones that are true savants aren’t really mathematical geniuses in the same way as someone like Newton.

Your use of the unusual word “savant” is interesting, Happydog.  Those freakish people who could calculate incredibly rapidly, but do little else, once used to be called idiots savants in French, by the medical profession; today, I think they are considered to be afflicted with autism (remember Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man?), rather than being either idiots or geniuses.  Nowadays - in English at any rate - I think I would only use the word “savant” to describe someone like Newton - a person of enormous intellectual stature: a true genius.

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Posted: 10 July 2011 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Remarkable abilities certainly aren’t limited to those with little ability to do much else. Here’s a natural rapid calculator who is otherwise “normal.”

Did Newton have unusual natural abilities? I think you’d have to be among the idiots savants (minus the savant) to believe otherwise. But as I said, there is a huge difference between being a talented artist and being a talented artisan.

Or as one of my professors once remarked, “It is one thing to know the language, and quite another to have something worth saying.”

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